Easter Services during COVID-19 & New Commercial Tenancy Code of Conduct

On Friday last week (3rd April), Prime Minister Scott Morrison provided further updates on COVID-19, after meeting again with National Cabinet. The Prime Minister focused much of his attention on the operation of places of worship as well as new guidelines surrounding lease disputes between tenants and landlords.

Places of worship

Places of worship, including churches, will be considered as workplaces approaching Easter time. The wording used in his official media statement  (https://www.pm.gov.au/media/update-coronavirus-measures-030420) is as follows:

Churches and other places of worship, will be considered places of work so that services can be live streamed to the community. This will ensure that religious services, including Easter services, remain accessible to congregations. National Cabinet agreed that providing access to services is important for a sense of continuity and social connection.

Services may be conducted and live streamed providing only essential staff are present, the venue/facility remains closed to the public, and social distancing principles are adhered to.

Any church wishing to conduct religious services, including Easter services, must use the minimum number of participants required to deliver and live stream the service, which may include a priest, attendants, organist, videographer and sound recordist.” 

This means that essential members within services will be allowed to conduct celebrations throughout and after the Easter period. Essential members, however, do not include members of the public who simply wish to attend these services.

Tenancy arrangements

Scott Morrison addressed his previous announcement on a six-month moratorium of all residential and commercial evictions. During his latest address, he added that while guidelines surrounding residential rental arrangements were still being considered, commercial tenancies were to observe a mandatory code of practice. This code will be legislated throughout states and territories to settle “unreasonable” disputes between tenancies.

The code of conduct will apply to smaller commercial tenants who are both eligible for the Commonwealth Government’s JobKeeper assistance package and have less than $50 million turnover. For more information on JobKeeper eligibility, click here.

The code will be guided by the following principles:

  1. Where it can, rent should continue to be paid, and where there is financial distress as a result of COVID-19 (for example, the tenant is eligible for assistance through the JobKeeper program), tenants and landlords should negotiate a mutually agreed outcom
  2. There will be a proportionality to rent reductions based on the decline in turnover to ensure that the burden is shared between landlords and tenants
  3. There will be a prohibition on termination of leases for non-payment of rent (lockouts and eviction)
  4. There will be a freeze on rent increases (except for turnover leases)
  5. There will be a prohibition on penalties for tenants who stop trading or reduce opening hours
  6. There will be a prohibition on landlords passing land tax to tenants (if not already legislated)
  7. There will be a prohibition on landlords charging interest on unpaid rent
  8. There will be a prohibition on landlords from making a claim to a bank guarantee or security deposit for non-payment of rent
  9. Ensure that any legislative barriers or administrative hurdles to lease extensions are removed (so that a tenant and landlord could agree a rent waiver in return for a lease extension)

These propositions will form a foundation of support between smaller commercial tenancy disputes and – if implemented correctly – will provide a bridge between landlords and tenants to reach more reasonable and measured agreements. Further announcements surrounding this code of conduct are expected to be made following the next meeting of National Cabinet on Tuesday 7 April. Meanwhile, if you require assistance in dealing with tenancy disputes or advice or reviewal of your current policies, please contact our experienced team.

If you have questions regarding Easter Services or you are a business having issue with tenancy arrangements? Contact us.

For more information on how our team can extend help to your business or organisation in this trying time, click here.

Written by James Tan & Kerry Copley 

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